Beat Writer’s Block with a Better Writing Process

In our last Edgar Learn post, we looked at brainstorming techniques to help come up with ideas for your blog – particularly when it comes to creating that valuable evergreen content. Today’s post is all about turning those ideas into great posts and beating writer’s block with a tried-and-true writing process.

Writing is a creative endeavor, for sure, but that doesn’t mean it should be a disorganized one. Adding structure to your writing process will make the whole thing easier. You’ll take less time to create content, and you’ll see better, more coherent writing as a result. Let’s walk through the process, from brainstorming, to writing, to publishing and beyond.

Brainstorming & Pre-Outlining

Brainstorming is one of the most important parts of the writing process, and one that writers in a hurry are most likely to skip. Don’t skip it! You’ll only end up wasting time later on when you struggle to come up with ideas while writing your article.

There are a million ways to approach brainstorming. You could make a list, create an idea web with the topic at the center, or stick to your existing pre-writing process (if you have one you really, really like). Just don’t jump right into creating an outline – it’s better to get all of your initial ideas out before starting to organize them.

One fun brainstorming activity is the “100 Mile-Per-Hour Brainstorm.” Traditionally you do this with a stack of note cards, but it’s a lot more environmentally friendly to just do it all digitally. Start by setting a timer for 100 seconds. Focus on your topic, hit start on the timer, and start write down every idea that comes into your head – no matter how terrible the idea might seem!

Try to come up with at least 50 ideas related to your topic – one idea every two seconds. That may seem like a lot, because it is! It’s much more likely that you’ll end up with far less than that… but the goal here is quantity over quality, so just spit out as many ideas as you can! “Ideas” in this exercise could be topics you want to cover, turns of phrase you want to use, articles or quotes you want to reference – whatever comes into your head that seems related in some way to the piece you’re about to write. Don’t limit yourself – just spit out ideas. You’ll edit them later.

Not to be confused with the 88 MPH brainstorm, seen here.

Not to be confused with the 88 MPH brainstorm, seen here.

By the way, this brainstorm activity can be a lot of fun to do with a partner or team where you can compete to see who can churn out the most ideas in the allotted time. It really gets the adrenaline flowing.

After the fast and furious brainstorming session, start going through your ideas and grouping them into three categories: stuff that definitely belongs in the piece, stuff that definitely doesn’t, and the stuff that may or may not make it into the finished product. Note that these are all subject to change as you write your piece – you may end up cutting some of the “definitely in” ideas, or adding some of the “definitely out” if your writing takes an unexpected turn. That’s okay. This is just to help get you started.

You’ll probably get some new ideas as you work through the ones you came up with during the brainstorm, so go ahead and write down anything new that pops into your head. If you were making pottery instead of writing, this would be the part where you’re putting clay on the wheel. Don’t worry about giving it a shape yet, just get all that raw material on there!

Pre-writing makes the actual writing go faster. But maybe not this fast.

Pre-writing makes the actual writing go faster. But maybe not this fast.

Outlines Beat Writer’s Block Every Time

Once you’ve combed through all of your ideas from the brainstorm, it’s time to start a formal outline for your piece. Thinking through the flow of your article like this will save a lot of time when it comes to actually writing it, and it’s one of the best ways around to beat writer’s block. Having an outline means that you always know where your piece is going next – if you get stuck while writing, simply refer to the outline and see what comes next. If you know where you’re going, you’ll figure out how to get there!

[Tweet “If you know where you’re going, you’ll figure out how to get there!”]

The following is a tried-and-true outline that can easily be adapted to almost any instance:

  • Intro
    • Quickly explain the background information
    • Tell the reader what your post is going to teach them
  • Body
    • Make your point
    • Provide an example
    • Explain how the example fits your point
    • Repeat with additional points/examples as needed!
  • Conclusion
    • Summarize what your reader learned
    • Tie it back to the intro, if possible

Start moving the ideas from your brainstorming session to fit into the above outline. Group together related ideas, and expect to get rid of things that you like – you can just file them away for future material. If brainstorming was throwing clay on the wheel, outlining is where you start carving out your shape.

Note that you can expand the “body” section of the outline to accommodate as many points and examples as you need to cover your topic. Just don’t go overboard – it’s a lot better to write several concise articles each covering a single topic than it is to write one long, rambling post covering many!

Writing a First Draft

Okay, you’ve brainstormed. You’ve outlined. Now, it’s time to actually write.

When it comes to first drafts, the most important thing is to just keep writing. Don’t stop and revise the sentence you just wrote. Don’t stop to think too much about finding the right word for exactly what you want to say. That all comes later. Just get it all out onto the page.

Your first draft should be a messy jumble of words – but it should contain all of the core elements that make it to your final draft… plus a lot of stuff that doesn’t. Write five sentences to express a thought if you need to – you’ll come back to it and pare it down later.

First drafts are in many ways the most difficult phase of the writing process. They are a prime point for writer’s block to strike, which is why it’s so important to just keep writing. Try to have fun with it instead; you are completely free to put in anything and everything, so go wild. Remember, it’s easier to delete than to create, so don’t hold back from pouring in ideas that might not make it to the final draft. Stay on topic and stick to your outline, obviously, but otherwise feel free to stretch out. It will all come together during revision.

Revision, Revision, Revision

Finish your first draft, then walk away for a bit. Let the dust settle in your mind and let your brain get out of word-dump mode. When you’re ready, come back to your draft and start going through it, shaping the sentences into something that another person might actually want to read. To continue our sculpture metaphor, this is where the clay really transforms into something beautiful. 

Much more like writing than you might think.

Much more like writing than you might think.

Do at least two rounds of revision, and give yourself a break in between each round – not just because writing is hard and you deserve it, but because it will help you to view your piece with fresh eyes each time! You’ll see thoughts you missed, or things that weren’t fully explained. You’ll also see pieces that made it into the first draft but aren’t necessarily related to the core message you’re trying to convey. The more you edit, the more of a definitive shape you’ll apply to your piece and the better it will be.

Publishing and Beyond

After you’ve given your article a few rounds of revision and are feeling pretty good about it, it’s never a bad idea to let someone else take a look. Authors generally have a hard time proofing their own work, because they tend to read things the way they intended for them to be written. Typos, confusingly worded sections, and other minor mistakes can be hard to catch, so it’s a great idea to let someone else go over the piece with fresh eyes.

Decide whether to publish your piece on your own site or shop it around as a guest feature somewhere else. In either case, publishing might feel like a finish line… but it’s not.

After you’ve published your piece, it’s time to start promoting it! But that’s a whole ‘nother story. For now, try following the brainstorming, outlining, and writing ideas laid out in this blog post. Hopefully you’ll find some new ways around writer’s block, and you’ll find it easier to write quality content. Next time, we’ll talk about how to promote it!

This post is part of our Edgar Learn series, where we share the strategies that helped us find success! For more from Edgar Learn, click here!

    • Jon Mattson

      Love the “100 Mile-Per-Hour Brainstorm” idea! I also think collaborating with a partner or team is crucial – Teamwork Makes the dream work!!

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